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Presidential candidates trade blows in TV debate

The most heated exchanges so far in the Slovak presidential race were witnessed in a TV debate on Tuesday, 17 March.

The most heated exchanges so far in the Slovak presidential race were witnessed in a TV debate on Tuesday, 17 March.

The debate, hosted by the De Facto programme on private TV channel JOJ, was between incumbent president Ivan Gašparovič (who is seeking re-election with the backing of two governing coalition parties), opposition-backed candidate Iveta Radičová, Free Forum party candidate Zuzana Martináková and Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS) party candidate František Mikloško.

Gašparovič claimed that nobody had done as much for Slovak-Hungarian relations as him, the Sme daily reported on its website.

Mikloško demanded that Gašparovič talk clearly about other aspects of his past during the campaign.

“If you run now for president, you must make a statement on fundamentals issues like the Gaulieder case [Gaulieder was an MP who was stripped of his parliamentary mandate in dubious circumstances during the 1994-1998 HZDS-led government of which Gašparovič was a leading member], the abduction of the president’s son [another notorious incident from the same government] or the amnesties [issued in 1998 by HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar, then acting as president, in which he blocked all investigation of the kidnapping case]” Mikloško said. “You were acting in tandem with Mečiar.”

Gašparovič responded by saying that there is not a single person in the world who has never made a mistake. “I have accepted my mistakes with humility and apologised for them,” the president said. Mikloško was the first one to bring up Gašparovič’s once-close political relationship with controversial former prime minister Mečiar.

According to Mikloško, Slovakia has never had such a bad position both at home and abroad as it did during 1992 and 1998 (both periods of HZDS-led government). “Back then, you were president no. 2. You remained silent and you have been silent until now,” Mikloško said.

After reiterating his earlier apologies, Gašparovič added that he had not voted in favour of stripping Gaulieder of his mandate, but had instead abstained from voting. Mikloško insisted, however, that he signed the resolution which led to parliament’s vote to eject Gaulieder.

After the debate, the president refused to answer any questions from journalists, saying he had no time.

Neither Radičová nor Martináková joined Mikloško in referring to the president’s past record. Radičová said she had already commented on the president’s work, and her campaign spokesman Ján Füle added that they were now concentrating on Prime Minister Robert Fico’s intervention in the campaign.

Martináková attacked Radičová, saying she has not kept to the Sk4 million (approximately €133,000) spending limit for the election campaign. Radičová rejected the accusation.

Martináková also called on Radičova to return financial support from the ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), because, she said, the SMK held partial responsibility for the poor state of Slovak-Hungarian relations. Radičová answered that, so far, she had received no financial support from the SMK, and criticised SMK vice-chairman Miklós Duray, for statements which, like those of Slovak National Party (SNS) chairman Ján Slota, she said, did not improve relations.

Gašparovič asked her why Béla Bugár, Pál Csáky and Zsolt Simon (all SMK MPs) called him an enemy of Hungarians. “I don’t think that you are an enemy of Hungarians; but we maybe have different ideas about how to solve Slovak-Hungarian relations,” Radičová responded. On March 18, the four candidates will face each other again – for the final time before the first round of the election on Saturday - on the private Markíza TV channel.

Gašparovič and Radičová, the leading candidates according to recent popular opinion polls, have spent most of the campaign in the regions. Sme

Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
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